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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

November 14, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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IT’S TIME FOR EARLY VOTING IN PENNSYLVANIA, Nov. 11

It wasn’t just a voter referendum on President Donald Trump that changed the Pennsylvania landscape in last week’s midterm elections. Solid judicial decisions played a role, too, particularly the court-ordered redrawing of a gerrymandered congressional map that had favored Republicans. And years earlier, the overturning of a restrictive voter ID law.

This is progress, but Pennsylvania still trails many states in voter access. Early voting would help bring the state into the 21st century. (If you waited in a long line in the rain on Tuesday, you might want to send a follow-up message to your state representative and senator. In Harrisburg, bills to allow early voting die in committee.)

Pennsylvania’s idea of early voting is by absentee ballot — but you’ve to mail in a sworn statement that you’re disabled or going to be out of town on Election Day.

Thirty-seven states extend some form of early voting. New Jersey, for example, allows no-excuse absentee voting, and lets people vote early in person at voter registration sites, for 45 days before an election.

What else? Same-day registration would be a step forward, along with easier ballot access for third-party candidates. And open primaries.

A predicted blue wave of Democratic fervor didn’t sweep through every corner Pennsylvania last week, but a statewide rebalancing took hold.

In January, the state’s congressional delegation will be perfectly purple — nine Republicans and nine Democrats, a dramatic change from the gerrymandered results of the last decade. That imbalance, enabled by a Republican governor and Legislature, helped to elect 13 Republicans to Congress, even though Democrats turned out in higher numbers overall.

Pennsylvania played a leading role in turning the U.S. House of Representatives to a Democratic majority. The state saw an unprecedented number of women candidates, including Democrat Susan Wild, who captured the Lehigh Valley’s newly drawn 7th District.

It’s notable that Wild won by 15,000 votes in the new 7th district, which reunited the Lehigh Valley. Republican Marty Nothstein, by a razor-thin margin, appears to have won the race to serve the final two months of former Rep. Charlie Dent’s term in the old 15th District. That district was gerrymandered to protect Dent after the 2010 census.

Republicans still ran strong, and won, in Republican-dominated areas of the state.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Still, Pennsylvania voters sent a message in re-electing U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, as New Jersey voters did in returning ethically challenged Sen. Robert Menendez to Washington.

Pennsylvanians opted for a split state government again, choosing Gov. Tom Wolf as a hedge against legislative Republicans, who retained majorities in both houses.

The rancorous segregation of Americans into red and blue camps isn’t going away, and it won’t be helped by selectively limiting voter access — as North Dakota did in making voting difficult for native Americans. A town in Kansas moved a polling site out of town. Georgia and other states have opted for aggressive purging of registration rolls.

It falls to the courts, in many cases, to point out partisan overload. Witness the federal court decision last week to toss Maryland’s congressional map. It had been sliced and diced, a panel of judges said, to help elect Democrats.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

__ The Easton Express-Times

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2RQUmiY

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EXPEDITE ASYLUM REQUESTS, Nov. 14

President Donald Trump is correct in the strong stand he is taking against the pileup of immigrants seeking to get into and stay in the United States. Some 800,000 asylum applications are pending in the immigration court system, and the backlog is growing.

At current rates, it will take years to wear it down. But Mr. Trump proposes to solve the problem the wrong way.

He should not plan to erect “massive” tent camps to hold people while they await their asylum decisions. This will lead to inhumane conditions and probably a permanent population of taxpayer-dependent people living in refugee status on American soil.

We need a ramped-up court system to handle these applications in the interest of prompt justice. Perversely, the interminable delays in handling asylum applications may work to encourage asylum seekers, who generally get to remain in this country awaiting their day in court.

And the specter of massive camps of immigrants living for free on American taxpayers while doing nothing but becoming embittered about their status is the kind of image that will feed the anti-immigrant anger of many Republican voters, many for years to come.

Mr. Trump didn’t choose the timing of the caravan that is making its way here from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The marchers and whoever is organizing and assisting their trek did that.

The president has done the right thing in sending strong signals that the United States will not lower its standards for granting asylum, and people should not expect to win asylum unless their cases meet established standards. The result is that the caravan has greatly diminished in size.

The president must avoid actions that overstate the situation, or threaten constitutional liberties, as he did with an extremely inappropriate proposed executive order to countermand the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil.

The solution is to crank up the court system rapidly to quickly process the backlog of asylum seekers. At the same time, the United States has an obligation to engage with the governments of Central America to correct policies that are driving people away from their homeland.

__ The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2qNQSCw

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KEEP MOVING FULL STEAM AHEAD, Nov. 14

It was exhilarating last week to see such engagement from voters.

The electorate came out in droves, not only across the state and country, but locally. Estimates show that the percentage of voters in each of Fayette, Greene, Westmoreland and Washington counties who made their voices heard surpassed the percentage of those who showed up nationally and across Pennsylvania.

It should be a moment of pride across our local counties, where voter turnout hasn’t always been extraordinary.

Election bureau directors from each of the four counties said turnout was above 50 percent (the lowest was Fayette at 53.2 percent). Westmoreland County, where there are nearly a quarter of a million registered voters, had a turnout of 59.4 percent. Rewind six months to the May primary and you’ll find that turnout in Fayette and Westmoreland didn’t crack 20 percent.

The turnout locally surprised even the most seasoned election bureau directors, some of whom said they’ve never seen that type of turnout for a midterm election.

Nationwide, according to the United States Election Project, 49.2 percent of those eligible to vote made their voices heard. Pennsylvania’s overall percentage was 50 percent, according to the organization.

Midterm elections, i.e. those for U.S. House and U.S. Senate that fall between presidential elections, don’t always bring a lot of excitement. The state’s overall turnout in 2014 was 36 percent and in 2010 it was 42.4 percent.

That the nationwide turnout nearly cracked 50 percent might feel like a “big whoop” moment to some. Without a doubt, the number still isn’t where it should be.

However, the last time such a high percentage turned out for a midterm election was 52 years ago, according to numbers from the United States Election Project, but at the time, the legal voting age was still 21.

So yes, to one of every two voters coming out on Nov. 6, we say, “That’s amazing.”

But we must feed that sense of civic duty and foster it so that it grows during next year’s municipal elections, where we’ll nominate and then choose candidates for county, city, borough and township offices. Among those up for election are commissioners — the group of three who will lead our counties. Mayors, council members, township supervisors, magisterial district judges and other county-level row offices will also be up for grabs.

The people elected to those offices might not make the same headlines as those in state and federal ones, but they impact the daily lives of the residents they serve.

At the polls last week, a Uniontown woman told one of our reporters that she read an article that said those who vote are usually the ones who are “enraged or engaged.” That leaves elections decided by those who are heavily involved in politics or incensed by the political climate.

As Nov. 6 proved, you needn’t be in either of those camps to participate.

You just need to care enough to go.

__ The Herald-Standard

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2z9C99I

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POCONO RACEWAY AIR SHOW WRONG TO FEATURE RE-ENACTMENT OF PEARL HARBOR, Nov. 11

Don’t get us wrong.

We love a good show just as much as the next person.

But a recent announcement about an air show at Pocono Raceway has left us wondering just what in the world officials at the track are thinking.

In case you haven’t heard, as reported on our website and by other area media Thursday night, the Great Pocono Raceway Air Show is going to have a host of entertainment on Aug. 24 and 25 next year.

Of course, their will be airplanes, displays, vendors and even something called the “Fan Fair,” which promises kid-friendly entertainment.

But it’s the grand finale of the show that has turned our stomachs.

A group called Tora! Tora! Tora! is coming to the Long Pond race track. (If the name of the group doesn’t ring a bell, you need to go back to your eighth grade history class.)

In case you haven’t heard or figured it out yet, Tora! Tora! Tora! will be performing an historic re-enactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, with up to 12 replica Japanese planes.

Isn’t that just wonderful? In case you miss the sarcasm, we don’t think it’s wonderful. In fact, it’s downright offensive to those who gave their lives on that fateful day.

Let’s forget for a moment that there isn’t a harbor anywhere in Long Pond that could hold the 16 U.S. Navy ships that were either destroyed or damaged during the actual attack.

We are sure the 2,000-foot wall of fire promised during the performance will more than make up for a lack of a deep-water port.

We’re not sure, however, if that wall of fire is supposed to represent the torpedoes that caused the USS Oklahoma to capsize, trapping many of its crew inside, or if it is an ode to the bomb that struck the USS Arizona’s magazine, sending it to the bottom and claiming 1,177 officers and crewmen.

Quite simply, we can’t believe that anyone would think re-enacting an attack that killed 2,403 Americans and wounded another 1,143 is appropriate.

May be we are just a little too sensitive.

The Tora! Tora! Tora!’s website says it has been re-enacting the attack since 1972. It says it’s a “memorial to all the soldiers on both sides who gave their lives for their countries.”

Well then, we just hope that the 15 sailors that died on the USS Pennsylvania as it was hit while in dry dock are properly honored.

Actually, race track officials should just reconsider their decision and pass on hosting the Tora! Tora! Tora! group and the re-enactment.

“The motto of the Commemorative Air Force and the ‘Tora’ act is ‘Lest We Forget.’ ‘Tora, Tora, Tora,’ as other Commemorative Air Force flying history recreations, is not intended to promote nationalism or glorify war. The intent of the Tora group is to help generations of individuals throughout the world born after World War II understand that war does not discriminate in the pain it causes and that courageous individuals on both sides lose their lives,” the group’s website says.

A lofty goal. But excuse of us if we believe the only thing that anyone is going to learn at this show is that planes can drop things that blow up.

We hardly believe that this is what Franklin D. Roosevelt meant when he said Dec. 7, 1941, was “a day that will live in infamy.”

__ The Times Leader

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2DnNIgp

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ACTION NEEDED NOW TO PROTECT MUELLER PROBE, Nov. 8

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had long been rumored to be on the postelection chopping block, so the announcement Wednesday that he had been forced out — finally — came as something less than a shock.

The timing, a little less so.

That President Donald Trump would wait less than 24 hours after the polls closed to offload his beleaguered AG was a reflection both of how eager he was to pull the trigger, and how incensed he was at the outcome of Tuesday’s elections.

The capture of the House by Democrats this week puts Trump in the crosshairs of legitimate political accountability for the first time in his presidency, and he seemed eager to deflect attention from that fact, which he did by demanding Sessions’ resignation.

If Sessions has a shred of self-decency left, he should have been only too glad to submit it. After all, Trump has pilloried his hand-picked AG mercilessly for more than a year since the latter committed the mortal sin (in Trump’s eyes) or recusing himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential elections.

Sessions’ recusal led to the hiring of special counselor Robert Mueller, which led to the largest cloud over Trump: An ongoing probe that has already generated scores of charges, as well as half a dozen guilty pleas from several close Trump associates, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen and short-tenured National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Which brings us to this week.

In forcing out Sessions, Trump did not name the agency’s second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to assume his duties. Leapfrogging over Rosenstein was Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who now assumes oversight of the Mueller probe.

Unlike Rosenstein, who had been Mueller’s boss owing to Sessions’ recusal, Whitaker is not on record as a defender of the special counsel. Just the opposite, in fact. He has, in his past role as a political commentator, questioned the latitude of the probe and has said it should be constrained. He even described how that could be done financially, by squeezing or outright defunding Mueller’s office.

No surprise, then, that leading Democrats are calling for Whitaker to recuse himself from any role in the investigation. Fat chance of that. Trump is no Rhodes scholar, but he isn’t dumb enough to make the same mistake twice of appointing an AG (acting or otherwise) with recusal plans.

All of which is why the Senate needs to act — and quickly.

A bipartisan bill that would shield Mueller’s investigation has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and need only be called to the floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell, in the past, has said the Mueller probe should proceed to its conclusion but that he did not think it needed legislative protection because it was not threatened. That is no longer the case.

With the probe now under the auspices of an acting attorney general who is on record as hostile to its scope, if not its very existence, lawmakers cannot respond quickly enough.

McConnell, sitting on his two Supreme Court judges and his about-to-expand majority, must now act in the best interest of country rather than party.

If not, Democrats, weakened though they be, ought not to shy away from using upcoming budget negotiations to force the issue.

The American public needs to know how and to what extent Russian adversaries meddled in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. The Mueller probe has uncovered no small amount of malfeasance already. It must be allowed to continue to its conclusion, wherever that may lead.

__ The York Dispatch

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2B7RyZp

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